Greece, Egypt seek Biden role in East Mediterranean dispute

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Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, left, and his Egyptian counterpart President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi review the Greek Presidential guard before their meeting in Athens, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. The Egyptian President is on a two-day official visit in Greece. (Angelos Tzortzinis/Pool via AP)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister said Wednesday that he expects U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration to play a more active role in attempting to calm tension in the eastern Mediterranean.

“We have every reason to welcome, along with all our partners in the region, the return of the United States to its central role as a leader of NATO,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after a meeting in Athens on Wednesday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Greece and Egypt are at odds with Turkey in a volatile maritime boundary dispute in the eastern Mediterranean over rights to search for and exploit natural gas deposits.

The European Union and the United States have both criticized Turkey’s ongoing maritime research missions in waters where Greece asserts jurisdiction. But Athens says it expects a Biden administration to be more engaged in the dispute.

“I believe that Greece and Egypt will welcome and have a positive attitude toward the determination of America’s contribution to the events of the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean in our troubled region,” Mitsotakis said.

The dispute between Greece and Turkey triggered a major military buildup over the summer that raised concerns of military confrontation.

Turkey argues that Greek islands along its coastline are blocking its access to undersea gas deposits and that boundaries should be set around the mainland and not include the islands. A Turkish research vessel, the Oruc Reis, is currently continuing a survey in a maritime area between Turkey’s coast, southeast Greek islands, and Cyprus. Greece’s Foreign Ministry condemned a new notification to mariners by Turkey extending the research through Nov. 23, which it said covered an area of the Greek continental shelf.

The ministry said Turkey was “repeatedly violating the International Law of the sea and undermining peace and stability in the region.”

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias had given instructions for a complaint to be lodged with Turkey over the move, the ministry said. Turkey’s behavior, it said, “pushes further away any prospects of a constructive dialogue” between Greece and Turkey. Michael Carpenter, a foreign policy advisor to Biden, said that the new administration could seek closer cooperation with France, Germany and other European nations in its policy concerning Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I do think and I am hopeful that when a President Erdogan sees a united front, that suggests that there is room for cooperation, but also that there are very negative consequences to pursuing a more aggressive policy, then he will have a rethink,” said Carpenter, managing director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

He made the remarks Monday, speaking by video link at a diplomatic conference organized in Greece.

In Athens for a two-day visit, el-Sisi also met with Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, while Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry will sit down with Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in the evening.

In August, Greece and Egypt signed a maritime deal demarcating the two countries’ maritime boundaries and setting out respective exclusive economic zones for the exploitation of resources such as oil and gas drilling.

The agreement, which remains partial, angered Turkey, which has accused Greece of trying to grab an unfair share of resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Greece-Egypt deal was widely seen as a response to a disputed agreement reached earlier between Turkey and Libya’s Tripoli-based administration that increased tension in the region.

Greece, Cyprus and Egypt widely criticized the deal between Ankara and Tripoli, saying it infringed on their economic rights. ___ Follow Derek Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos and Elena Becatoros at https://twitter.com/ElenaBec

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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